The Arizona Cardinals lost three defensive backs during the offseason. Facing the prolific passing attack of the Atlanta Falcons in their brand-new Mercedes Benz Stadium, they had some concerns. Consider those concerns resolved.
Patrick Peterson and company shut down Matt Ryan and friends in a 24-14 victory this weekend. The rebuilt Cardinal secondary caught as many Matt Ryan passes as the Falcons’ wide receivers did (one each) and almost doubled them up when Peterson dropped an interception.
Meanwhile, the Arizona offense shrugged off a slow start and a couple of fumbles and found its groove when Carson Palmer hit John Brown with a beautiful 21-yard fade for a touchdown just ahead of two Falcon defenders. Brown also caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Drew Stanton. The receiver’s effort to stay in bounds indicates his injured legs are feeling quite well.
Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson saw only token action, but the offense still clicked. Palmer and Stanton combined to go 12/19 for 139 yards before yielding control to Blaine Gabbert, who had a pretty good night himself. James Summers and Chris Johnson ran well and look good if the other Johnson needs a regular season breather.
With John Brown back on the field, Arizona has their top four wide receivers healthy and ready for the season opener. Jaron Brown and J. J. Nelson were among 17 players targeted by Cardinal quarterbacks as Coach Bruce Arians was pleased enough with their performance to pull all his starters earlier than he expected.
What did we learn?
Arizona’s defense is as strong as ever despite the turnover in the secondary. Their front seven also had a great night with four sacks and a fumble recovery.
Palmer looks sharp and the offense was upbeat, but the starting quarterback was quick to acknowledge they still have things to work on. The offensive line allowed some pressure and two sacks. The running game looked good except they put the ball on the ground four times (twice by backup Chris Johnson). They only lost one of the fumbles, but it is still an alarming fumble rate.
John Brown’s performance was good to see. He did not show any effects of the bothersome quads that kept him out of the first two preseason games. Jaron Brown is still ahead of him on the Cardinal depth chart, but John Brown put himself back into fantasy conversations with his two touchdowns.
As happy as everyone in the Cardinal locker room was after this game, they were just as dismal after last week’s loss to Chicago. The question is, which week’s team is closer to the Cardinal’s reality. Are they destined to have good weeks and bad weeks all season or have they righted the ship?
Carson Palmer always looks like he should be a top ten passer, but then he isn’t. He threw for a seventh-best 4233 yards last season, but 18 turnovers (14 picks and 4 fumbles lost) and an average-at-best touchdown total (26) left him as fantasy’s 19th ranked quarterback. That is where he comes off the board this season.
David Johnson seriously wants to gain 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing this year. He seriously needs to be the top player off the board in most drafts, possibly second only to Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell. He is the only game in town in Arizona’s backfield.
That leaves about 3,000 yards to be distributed among the Cardinal’s wide receivers. No one understands the Cardinals receivers. Larry Fitzgerald keeps catching passes. He finished last season as the number 17 fantasy wideout. Owners are taking him as the WR27 this season. That could prove to be a bargain.
The bigger misunderstanding is Arizona’s number two receiver. J. J. Nelson averaged 7.5 points per game in 2016, good for a WR45 overall. John Brown averaged 4.3 points per game as the WR75. But each season, we hear of the potential, like this week’s two touchdown performance, and John Brown gets over-valued. Sure enough, early ADP rankings show John Brown is coming off boards as the WR45 while Nelson follows at WR72.
It might make sense to assume Brown’s all-around game will get more attention than Nelson’s deep receiver role, but here’s the thing: neither is likely to be Arizona’s second receiver. Jaron Brown, the five-year veteran and special teams contributor, had the number two role locked up last season (over Michael Floyd) until a torn ACL put him out of commission.
Jaron is back this season and looking even better than last year. He is starting ahead of John Brown and J. J. Nelson for a reason. He is the best receiver no one ever heard of. He can probably be had in the last round, which I predict will be a bargain when he finishes as the WR42 for 2017.
Those other fantasy guys
No Arizona tight end is registering an ADP and I am not too proud to admit I had to use Google to find out who the Arizona tight ends are. It is not worth telling you. They do not play a part in the passing attack.
I knew who the Cardinals’ kicker is, but there are 24 kickers ranked ahead of him, so I’m not going to mention his name either.
But the defense. They are for real. A perennial top-ten unit, they are being drafted around D/ST7 so far. There are a few up-and-comers who could push them down a notch, but the Arizona defense is worthy of your roster spot.
So… that’s that
Arizona is full of optimism as their beloved Cardinals prepare to challenge the Seahawks for the NFC West division title. But that’s not important. What is important is that there are several key players who can help your fantasy team make the playoffs.
The defense, David Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald are obvious fantasy roster gems. Plus, I think Jaron will be the J. Brown who surprises the fantasy world this season.
Of course, I could change my mind, so check back at RealSport for constant updates all season long.
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